Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Complicated Issue of Armpit Hair

I haven’t shaved my armpits in about three months. They’re not just shadowed with stubble. They’re not even just fuzzy. They’re…hairy. This wasn’t a conscious choice. It started out as sheer laziness. I take baths instead of showers most of the time, and the razor is always on the shower caddy hanging from the showerhead. Once I’m lying down in the bath and realize my razor is so far away, I just think, “Oh well. Maybe I’ll shave tomorrow.” I didn’t ever decide to grow out my armpit hair, but it’s interesting to me that it gets such as reaction. Apparently I’m supposed to shave every inch of my regularly visible body, or people will just tell me all about the fact that I’ve got body hair going on. I’ve been informed that family members are going to “stage an intervention,” and I was asked to explain why I had armpit hair. I guess I didn’t realize I owed people explanations for my choices as to what I do with my body as I go through my daily life.

I don’t ask other people to explain their body hair.

A lot of people have said that they shave not because they are responding to societal pressure but because they find body hair “gross.” Americans as a general rule will use this word to describe all things related to the body; people declare feet to be gross, their own genitalia to be gross, body hair to be gross, and everybody loves to say that penises are gross. I don’t understand any of these things to be gross unless they’re diseased and oozing pus. To believe that these things are inherently gross in and of themselves is to believe that even clean, fresh from the bath feet are “gross.” It’s to believe that my non-sticky, non-stinky armpit hair is “gross.” Some genitalia may be moist, but that doesn’t make it gross. I find it odd that so many people, and women in particular, describe a perfectly normal bodily function (the growing of hair) to be gross, but what really gets me down is that everyone feels the need to tell me this when they see my armpit hair.

As Madonna once famously put it, “I’m not your bitch. Don’t hang your shit on me.” I’m absolutely certain that I’ve quoted that before, but it’s one of my favorites.

I have been asked if this was “a feminist thing,” or perhaps the result of depression. It’s armpit hair! I just didn’t see it as that important. It’s just what’s happening right now, today, for me. Watching people have such strong reactions to such a silly thing is both funny and depressing. What I am doing harms exactly no one, but the group is passionately opposed to me stepping outside of the norm. My armpit hair makes me “the other,” that scary beast who needs taming. I suppose if I am willing to flout this convention, I might be willing to blow things up, steal, kill people, or be willing to step outside the other norms we so desperately need for civilized society. Except that is a crazy line of thinking.

Historically speaking, we’ve most likely used this instinct to spot “the other” to protect ourselves from the enemy. But we should be becoming more discerning at this point. Instead, we still crudely separate by “us” and “them” along even the most meaningless of lines. Of course, no one has abandoned me over it just yet, but they’re simply at stage one: shaming me into compliance. If I don’t respond to that, I wonder how long until I’m banished to the forest.

My armpit hair doesn’t feel so much like a feminist issue except insofar as it others me but does not other men. In reality, it didn’t really feel like an issue at all until other people started talking to me about it like it was a symbolic problem and a great offense. But if it is an issue, it feels like part of a larger issue for me – the issue of “the other” and how even the most banal of infringements on societal norms can immediately send you to “the other” side.

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